Who is Nao?
Nao is a singer-songwriter, record producer, label owner, and native of East London. Her sound has been compared as soul combined with funk, R&B, and techno music. She refers to her style of music as “wonky funk”. The present aspect is wonkiness, which consist of electronic rhythms and our mucking up of baselines, drums, and other similar elements. Funk is the old school. Nao, throughout her career, has had a multifaceted relationship with music.
Neo Jessica Joshua aka Nao, who was born on December 20, 1987, was the youngest of five children and of Jamaican, Vincentian, and Grenadian origin. Nonetheless, she was reared as the sole child of her father and mother, who shared parental responsibilities between Nottingham and London. While growing up in a more conservative environment; her three brothers and on sister being the only black kids in school, Nao was still heavily influenced by the garage, grime, 2step, and dancehall type of music and listening to groups such as Pay As U Go and Heartless Crew. As a teenager, Nao would venture to singing classes at a place called Estate of the Arts. From here, she would even go on to do live performances at open mic nights at the iconic Palace Pavilion. Following her vocal jazz studies at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, she began working as a backing vocalist for well-known English bands, including Jarvis Cocker and Kwabs, which sparked her career. From there, Nao left the background vocalist scene and joined The Boxettes, a singing group, for six years till 2014. A cappella group called The Boxettes, made up of five women, aimed to “crush the girl-band stereotype and create a sound and energy so empowering that every audience is left mesmerized and inspired.” This ensemble mostly performed in the pop and rock genres. Although she was collaborating and making music with her group, she felt “unfulfilled” and anxious to create her own voice and aesthetic. She fell in love with a new sound infecting London’s electronic underground while performing as a vocalist with electronic producers. Although she was collaborating and making music with her group, she felt “unfulfilled” and anxious to create her own voice and aesthetic. She fell in love with a new sound infecting London’s electronic underground while performing as a vocalist with electronic producers.
Nao debuted as a solo artist after leaving The Boxettes in 2014, releasing her first EP, So Good. Despite being an extended play, this album proved pivotal in her career. It peaked at number four on iTunes in the Electronic Chart Category and was added to the national playlists of BBC Radio 1 and BBC 1Xtra.That same year, Nao founded her own recording label titled “Little Tokyo” after visiting the city.“My label was named after a small whisky bar I visited in Tokyo. It was a tiny space that only held 5 people and the barman was also a DJ who had a whole wall of rare and colourful soul records behind him. As he poured whisky he also pulled the records off the shelves and played them. They were all brilliant, musical and nothing I’d heard before. It is one of my fondest memories and that sense of every single record being a special item to be savoured. I wanted that to carry that spirit into my record label.”
The following year, in 2015, Nao was a featured writer and performer on the tune Superego by Disclosure, a well-known English Electronic music band duo from the United Kingdom. As well as releasing her second EP, February 15, in May of 2015, where she received the title of “Best New Music.”In 2016, Nao released her debut album, “For All We Know,” via her recording label, allowing her to be nominated for Best British Female Solo Artist. For the following three years, Nao worked as a co-writer on several other notable artists’ projects, including Ariana Grande, Stormzy, and Mira Masa. During this period, she also released a number of songs, such as “Zillionaire,” and “Nostalgia”. Moreover, at this period, Nao released her sophomore album “Saturn.”
Following the birth of her first child, Nao provided backing vocals and her voice to a number of musicians, including Disclosure, Cosha, and Kwabs. Nao released her junior album, “And Then Life Was Beautiful,” later that year. Nao released many new singles and music videos in 2021. As of 2023, Nao is still putting out new singles, working at her record company Little Tokyo, and co-writing songs for several major musicians.
Despite self-identifying as “wonky funk”, Nao is among several mainstream performers in the electronic and techno genre at her time. Music producers Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland, together as Jungle, Kaytranada, a Canadian producer, and music producer Dj Mura Masa are among the artists.
In the early days of her career, Nao says she always found inspiration and resonated with old school singers. Saying that, ” I was listening to a lot of gospel, which led me onto jazz. When I found singers like Nina Simone and Donny Hathaway — proper soul singers who were raw and didn’t apologise — that’s when I thought: ‘Right, I need to become a proper musician’.” Later in her career Nao finally found her footing after discovering Burial, James Blake, and Mount Kimbie. “The dark meets the garage…” she explains. “I believe the garage portion resonated with me because I knew it, but so did the darkness… I thought to myself, ‘Fuck, this sounds so good.’ That moved me into the world of Soundcloud and discovering music that way.”
Much of Nao’s social involvement comes from her creating her own record label. Nao states, “Little Tokyo,( Nao’s record label), was started when she was not signed to a record label, and her creating it was a way of launching her music. Nao thinks it is about artists who may not necessarily get the platform due to certain aspects or not having the “X-Factor.” Just ordinary people who are outstanding musicians Nao thinks the world should hear. True to Self
Nao also recognizes her blackness within the music industry. In the video “Nao on Being Black & British, Vulnerability & More: An interview with Essence Festival in 2019, she elaborates on how
Nao is one of her generation’s most skilled and distinctive artists. The lady works to create doors for herself and others by developing her own music genre, starting her own record company, and releasing a range of albums. Every time Nao puts anything into the world, she continues to make something for herself. Nao was my choice for my artist article because she has discovered her voice.
“Nao.” RCA Records, 25 July 2022, www.rcarecords.com/artist/nao/.
Mascetti, Julia. “Nao and Tokyo: Music: Metropolis Magazine Japan.” Metropolis Japan, 21 Oct. 2023, metropolisjapan.com/nao-and-tokyo/.
“Nao (Singer).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Oct. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nao_(singer).
Vevo, director. NAO Official – An Interview with NAO, Hosted by Lizzy Plapinger. YouTube, YouTube, 25 Aug. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19dOBnCgeqc&t=6s. Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.
“NAO On Being Black & British, Vulnerability & More | On The Road.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 July 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlYqNc4tNsc. Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.
“Nao ‘And Then Life Was Beautiful’ – Track By Track (with Nadia Jae).” YouTube, YouTube, 24 Sept. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUlA1A7WUOo&t=145s. Accessed 29 Nov. 2023.